Ethics refers to the accepted way of conduct or behavior in a given society. This is usually developed over time and any conduct which is deemed to be outside the boundaries of the accepted way of behavior is shunned and discouraged. There are some ethics which are universal whereas there others which vary from society to society. The law on the other hand refers to the set rules which govern a given people or society. These rules are determined by the ruling authority which in this case might be the government of the day, the local authorities or a council of elders (Jones, 2007).
Governments usually put their laws in writing in what is referred to as the constitution. This helps in the settlement of disputes and also for posterity purposes. Ethics on the other hand are not documented. To some extent they are deemed to exist naturally. It is therefore upon the individual to decide whether to act ethically or unethically. It cannot be forced upon an individual. For example; being polite to strangers is good behavior. However no one can be compelled to do so.
Sometimes, there is usually a clash between ethics and the law. Some provisions of the law may be deemed as unethical by certain sections of society. This is because the law is established in consideration of the diversity of the people to whom it applies. This therefore means that it does not take into account the individual preferences of a particular group only; it also looks at the interests of the minority who do not have a voice to speak for them(Jones, 2007). For instance, gay marriages have been legalized in some countries. There are certain members of society who feel that these gay unions are unethical while others feel that it is their right to choose the gender of the partner. The law nevertheless must not be seen to be biased and must operate autonomously. This is where the law and ethics clash.
Jones R.G. (2007) How Companies Create Value for People. 1st edition
Columbia Southern University. The McGraw Hill Companies.